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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Back to main page

Songs of the North CountrySongs of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan David Pichaske (Continuum)

Initial foundations on the Dylan Wing of Contemporary Scholarship were erected back in the ‘70s, but the pace of construction has definitely increased of late, with Greil Marcus’s Like A Rolling Stone, Clinton Heylin’s two-volume The Songs of Bob Dylan and Christopher Ricks’s Dylan’s Visions of Sin among the countless titles to have competed for the Bob-head’s hard-earned during the last half-decade alone. Inevitably, writers are pursuing evermore niche – some might say obscure – angles in order to shed fresh light on a much-told story, and for David Pichaske this takes the form of an analysis framing Dylan’s work in the context of his Minnesotan roots (an eminently logical choice given that the author is Professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University). The personal and political preoccupations that have run like a river through Dylan’s creative life are given a new and generally resonant twist by Pichaske’s allusions to writers as varied as Ernest Hemingway, Garrison Keillor and Camille Paglia, although the academic tone earmarks this as one for the passionate fan only. Now, how about a few more scholars turning their attentions to Dylan’s contemporaries – and equals – Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young?
David Davies

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On Some Faraway BeachThe Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music
Richard Williams (Faber)

What have The Who, minimalist composer Terry Riley and the catalogue of super-cool jazz label ECM got in common? Well, not a great deal, you might think, but Richard Williams believes that the broad musical landscape they all inhabit would not be the same without Miles Davis’ 1959 classic Kind of Blue. Fully aware that the creation of this landmark modal jazz recording has already been dissected at length in numerous books and essays, Williams – a distinguished Guardian music and sports writer who signed the likes of John Cale during his stint as an Island Records A&R man in the 1970s – focuses instead on the album’s contemplative legacy. It is Williams’ contention that as well as charting a new course for jazz away from its more exuberant heritage, Kind of Blue also struck a chord with arising methodologies in other areas of artistic endeavour, including painting, literature and contemporary classical music. Interspersing this compelling argument are well-chosen episodes and quotations which illustrate the full extent of Davis’ artistic vision. The kind of extended meditation that is encountered all too infrequently in music writing these days, The Blue Moment is bold, intelligent stuff from a master of the craft.
David Davies

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There’s A Riot Going OnThere’s A Riot Going On
Peter Doggett (Canongate)

As images of strikes and protests fill up our TV screens, and even the more conservative commentators begin to talk about a possible seismic change in society, Peter Doggett’s compelling examination of ‘60s counter-culture could hardly be more timely. Jonathon Green’s oral history, Days In the Life (Pimlico, 1988), is arguably unbeatable as an account of the UK scene, so it was a wise move for Doggett to focus his study squarely on developments Stateside. Running to 600 pages, There’s A Riot Going On charts the rise of the US counter-culture’s driving forces – including the Black Panthers and the Yippies – and their slow decline in influence, often amidst conflicting visions of the new America they wished to build. Extraordinary characters are legion, of which the most astonishing may be A.J. Weberman, whose determination to (as he put it) ‘save’ Bob Dylan and restore him to the forefront of the protest movement frankly beggars belief. The narrative of the counter-culture’s perceived peak at Woodstock and its loss of momentum after the lows of Manson and Altamont is a familiar one, but is made fresh here thanks to Doggett’s masterly command of both new and archive material. In short, an essential purchase.
David Davies

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Bruce DickinsonBruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal With Maiden And Flying Solo
Joe Shooman (Independent Music Press)

Written in that ‘alright mate?’ style beloved of metal magazines our tale begins in the murky underbelly of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, a club based scene for air-guitar playing punters who couldn’t understand punk, and encounter our hero’s first tentative steps on the ladder to metal superstardom with Samson, a band with a seriously irritating drummer (horror-movie, rapist-mask-sporting oaf Thunderstick, 'he’s mad he is', or so he repeatedly insists), and a reputation for boorish behaviour on tour – including bouts of Dickenson baiting, mainly prompted due to his being educated (refusing to join the band until he finished his degree, the fool). We then meet serious career metallists Iron Maiden, the band that propelled him into the worlds arena’s and learn of his fencing exploits (very good), flying escapades (also good) solo albums (not so good) and novel writing forays (bloody awful). The point is this man is driven, intelligent and, whether you like his music or not, good at what he does (writing books aside). Shooman is occasionally given to over emphasising points (the tale would certainly benefit from a bit of judicious pruning), but on the whole this is recommended to anyone even vaguely interested in Dickenson, Maiden or indeed the whole NWOBHM scene.
Ruby Palmer

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Duran Duran: Notorious Steve Malins
(André Deutsch)

There are, and I must number myself amongst them, those that feel this book should actually be entitled ‘Ludicrous’, not least because of the massive conceit that Duran Duran occupy a slot on the artistic timeline somewhere between Roxy Music and Japan or, come to that, the later addition of a hideous cartoon human – could there be a more odious, shallow, downright sleazy human being outside of a correctional institution than Warren Cuccurullo? The story itself is certainly an eminently readable one, as we first meet the most pretentious man in the world (Nick Rhodes), and deluded walking cock of a buddy John Taylor, then wannabe rock star guitarist Andy Taylor, gallumping talent-less vocalist Simon Le Bon and apparently quite nice drummer boy Roger Taylor join the fold and years of excessive behaviour ensue. Naturally enough it soon goes pear shaped as Taylor R bails out, Taylor A gets mean moody and miserable, Taylor J becomes a sex-obsessed drug hoover, Le Bon S gets obnoxious and capsizes boats and Rhodes N slowly but inexorably disappears up his own arse. To be fair to Steve Malins (who keeps the whole sorry tale rattling along very nicely), he doesn’t appear to dislike the band, it’s just that everything they say and do means you end up hating them anyway.
Ruby Palmer

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ChroniclesChronicles: Volume I
Bob Dylan
(Simon & Schuster)

Expectations were not particularly high for this memoir, fuelled perhaps by the memory of Dylan's only other full-length published work, 1971's baffling non-narrative novel, Tarantula. There was also the suspicion that a man quite so given to myth-making - both in interviews and his own songwriting - might not prove the most forthcoming of authors. Well, the naysayers were utterly wrong, because Chronicles Volume One is a quite remarkable piece of work. Written in a rich, textural style that echoes the evocative imagery of Blonde On Blonde, the book eschews conventional timeframe to consider five crucial turning-points in Dylan's career. In particular, he brings the New York of the early '60s to vivid life as he recalls his initiation into the café-bar singer/songwriter scene and traces the development of his own songwriting craft. Dylan next steps off in the period following his motorcyle accident, a temporary withdrawl from music doing little to dent the enthusiasm of obsessive fans who continued to beat a path to his door and assert his 'prophet' status. An episode detailing the production of the reputation-restoring Oh Mercy album is similarly affecting, and the hope now will be that Dylan actually gets round to the two planned sequels to this candid and brilliantly written book.
David Davies

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Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads
Greil Marcus (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Bob Dylan’s own recent memoir, Chronicles (see below), was such an outstanding piece of work you might well have suspected that here was one artist who was going to pull off the seemingly unthinkable and have the last word on his own career. If nothing else, it certainly set a high bar for any additions to the already well-stocked Dylan library. Trust Greil Marcus to scale it without any difficulty – following on from Invisible Republic, his 1997 deconstruction of the Dylan/Band Basement Tapes, the renowned rock critic has produced a compelling analysis of a single song, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. While the vaulting ambition of Bob’s first full-blown rock record is the guiding inspiration – he recognises in the song “the reach for that moment when the stakes of life are raised” – this is only one aspect of a broad commentary that allows for plenty of the author’s customary diversions. Having established the song as a turning point in Dylan’s own career, Marcus goes on to make a convincing case for the song’s enduring significance as a rare moment of undiluted culture shock. Exhaustively researched and written in Greil’s characteristic perpetual-motion prose, Like A Rolling Stone… proves that rock criticism can (albeit very occasionally) make for great literature.
David Davies

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Darker Than the Deepest Sea Darker Than The Deepest Sea: The Search For Nick Drake
Trevor Dann (Portrait)

With Patrick Humphries’ comprehensive 1998 biography still on the shelves, it might be argued that there was no particular urgency for another account of Nick Drake’s extraordinary if tragically short life. But in seeking to tease out the hidden details of a progressively shadowy existence, Trevor Dann – one-time head of BBC Music Entertainment and the producer of Live Aid – has crafted a nuanced biography that somehow has greater impact than Humphries’ more scrupulously factual forerunner. What also emerges more clearly than in any previous account is quite how early it all began to go wrong – rather than the often-voiced notion that the darkness proper began to set in after Bryter Layter, Dann suggests compellingly that Drake exhibited signs of disillusionment even before the completion of classic debut Five Leaves Left. The extent of his drug use is also documented more rigorously than before, leaving the reader to make his or her own conclusions about the likely impact on Drake’s increasingly fragile mental health. The only missing element is a thorough dissection of the songs’ haunting and frequently allusive lyrics, and for that the benchmark text remains Ian MacDonald’s brilliant essay ‘Exiled From Heaven’.
David Davies

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